campus child care

Clark College Campus Child Care, Vancouver WA

“Educa has provided us with the ability to step back and look at the child in a meaningful and intentional way.”

Michele Volk

michele volk
Michele Volk

Clark College Child and Family Studies (CFS) center in Vancouver, WA is all about engaging teachers, parents and students in the process of lifelong learning.  Families, college students studying early education and children all contribute to an emergent curriculum that places the needs and interests of children first.

That’s not just a philosophy statement sitting in the lobby. They live it. The Clark College college campus child care center is a true learning institution.

The majority of children who attend the center come from families directly connected to the college. In fact, 2/3 of the parents who send their children to the center are students themselves at Clark College.

Educa recently sat down with the Clark College Child and Family Studies Director of Services and Community Projects, Michele Volk to learn more about this unique school. Check out Clark Family Studies center here.

Many Adults, Diverse Perspectives

When you enter a classroom at CFS you are bound to see more adults than you might see in a typical center in the United States. Clark College early childhood education students complete their lab courses in the center classroom. In addition, student aids from all college departments are eligible to work at the center.

Michele explains that student aids are studying a variety of subjects from various departments on the college campus including art and music. Volk explains that this diversity “makes for a rich learning environment for the children.”

Partnering with Families on Being Intentional

Clark College families enrolling their children at the center complete a college “ family life” course credit. They are assigned a faculty member who teaches and organizes community family activities.

Classroom meetings are scheduled quarterly. These meetings are an opportunity for students, families, teachers, and students to share a meal and discuss the curriculum. At Clark, families do not just learn about their child’s curriculum, they contribute to the curriculum.

This model also allows families to learn about the Clark philosophy, the value of play, and so much more. Educa helps teachers communicate these values in their communications with families. The family life course intentionally includes parents and caregivers in their child’s learning journey.

Parents As Teachers

Michele’s philosophy is that “families are their children’s first teachers.” She sees early childhood education as a team effort. This is particularly true in college campus child care where there is a diversity of perspective due to various areas of studies of the students working in the center.

Michele’s first degree was in early childhood education. Through teaching she began to see the need for a degree in human development to be an effective teacher and administrator. She knew instinctively that effective education starts with the whole family and felt that a solid understanding of the whole range of human development would greatly inform her work in ECE.

After 18 years of teaching and another 12 years in administration, she knew she had found a good fit in Clark Child and Family Studies.  This is because of the strong emphasis on family collaboration. She had served as an adjunct professor in ECE and administrative classes and was impressed with the center’s commitment to family.

Child-Led Curriculum

Michele explains that at Clark, children guide their own curriculum. Educa helps here. It creates a focal point for teachers, a way to observe, interpret and imagine the next steps for the child. Learning stories feature the child as capable and competent.

“Children need to explore and they need a rich environment to do that. Educa has provided us with the ability to step back and look at the child in a meaningful and intentional way.”

If you visited the Child and Family Studies facility, you would see play and exploration. Inherent in this exploration is trusting that children are capable and competent. The rich outdoor environment at the center promotes challenge, risk and joy in learning.

Educators at CFS teach both young children and adult ECE students. Like Michele, many of these educators have both human development and early childhood degrees. “Essentially, they are skilled leaders,” explains Michele. Despite this niche role, teacher turnover is low at Clark. Teachers are there because they value the rich community of learning.

Clark teachers possess a full understanding of the many approaches to learning in early childhood education. This breadth of learning meets children where they are and exposes lab students to a variety of ECE theories. Using inquiry as a basis for lifelong learning, children and families inform the curriculum, which aligns well with the center’s emphasis on family engagement.

Celebrating Teaching Moments

Michele’s goal is to find new ways to celebrate the work of ECE teachers and further involve her ever-changing families at her campus child care center.

She hopes to write learning stories in their Educa teacher portfolio, documenting the amazing work her teachers do. All too often she feels she misses opportunities to point out the great things she sees happening in classrooms. For her, writing teacher learning stories will be less about supervision, and more as a way to boost teachers in this difficult but rewarding profession. “I want to celebrate our teachers and support them as they try new things.”

Like many directors, Michele would love to support more parent stories and comments using Educa.

“Educa’s potential as a community builder is just amazing.”

One of the unique features of the CFS program and many college campus child care centers is that college students and families often use the center for only a few months at a time. She hopes to engage families in meaningful ways in the time she has with them. To do this, she will encourage families to comment on learning stories and write parent stories early on so that they can get the most from their child’s learning experience.

Using Educa

When Michele’s colleagues Kurtis Trimbo and Paul Caggianese were introduced to Educa at a conference, they came back “very excited.” Initially, Educa was trialed by three classes in the center over the course of 30 days. “This trial helped teachers understand the strengths of Educa and what questions they had about the platform.” The Educa support team trained educators and showed them ways to engage families.

“What we’ve seen over time is a real jump in parent engagement.”

Michele also explained that Educa gives teachers and families “a better picture of the whole child, which serves as a springboard for planning.” Ultimately, this communication and planning provides a richer experience for children and families. For a center that values community and engagement, Educa is an ideal platform!

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